Annual 4th of July parade a cool change

Mother Nature spared participants in the annual Bethany Beach Fourth of July parade last week, with mild temperatures and refreshing breezes uncharacteristic of the first week of July at the Delaware shore. Bright sun, however, highlighted the day, setting a glow on the colorful floats, walking groups and bands that participated in the 2007 edition of the parade.
The news was not so good for those who had hoped to see fireworks grace the night sky on Wednesday night, however.

The breezes that refreshed parade-goers earlier in the day were forecast to take the area to downright windy conditions in the evening, causing Bethany Beach officials to call in the weather clause on their new contract with Pyrotecnico, a New Castle, Pa., firm that produces more than 2,000 pyrotechnics events each year and has been employed by Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints NFL football teams, as well as a number of coastal resort communities and events nationwide.

With the new fireworks contract, for about $6,000 extra, the town had the option of rescheduling the display, hoping to avoid a weather-related flat-out cancellation like those that have plagued the town’s annual July 4 fireworks displays in recent years. So, the decision was made to postpone from Wednesday, July 4, to Saturday, July 7.

Though the postponement was a step forward from years when the fireworks might have been canceled entirely, those planning their Fourth of July week vacations around the mid-week fireworks date still ended up disappointed.

The area’s traditional Saturday-Saturday rental week meant that many of them were heading home on July 7 and missed out on that night’s fireworks display, despite the additional cost of rent during the holiday week, which can be as much as twice the normal rate.

“The people who came here for the week of July 4 paid probably the highest rate of the season in order to enjoy what Bethany Beach had to offer, including fireworks,” wrote Joseph Harris of Dagsboro in a letter to the Coastal Point.

“Why couldn’t Bethany have rescheduled them for Thursday night, as Ocean City did? Or even Friday night?” Harris asked.

As the rental week concluded, some vacationers were complaining about the impact of the decision on their holiday and even asking for refunds of some or part of their rental fees.

While the windy weather system that plagued the event in 2007 was mild compared to the severe storms that canceled the 2006 fireworks completely, Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the decision to postpone this year had not been without reason.

“The same front that made us cancel the fireworks stayed in the area until Friday – that was the forecast,” he explained. “We were concerned that if the front stalled, would be in the same predicament of having to cancel the fireworks again and eating the entire expense of the show.”

“So, we picked a day when we knew we would have fairly good buffer, 24 hours of clear weather before the shoot,” he said. “And the front stayed in the area until mid-day Friday,” he noted.

Officials in neighboring towns were faced with similar decisions, though the choices varied in each case, causing further question about the impact in Bethany Beach.

Fireworks in neighboring Rehoboth Beach were held on Wednesday evening, on the Fourth of July, amid crowds likely buoyed by Bethany’s postponement. Ocean City, Md., officials, having met around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, postponed their show until the following evening, Thursday, July 5, despite a festival event planned to lead up to the show at Northside Park on Wednesday night.

On a positive note, though Bethany’s contract with Pyrotechnico called for a $6,000 fee for postponing the show, Graviet said the early call on the postponement likely saved the town some money, since the contractor did not have to travel the full distance to Bethany Beach before they were notified of the decision.

“It will likely be less than that, because we made the decision early on Wednesday,” Graviet said.

While there was some disappointment expressed about the postponement, the belated show went off without a hitch on Saturday, amid hot, humid weather more typical of a Fourth of July holiday in the coastal town.

Those who braved the parking hassles and a slightly lighter than usual crush of humanity to view the fireworks from the beach and boardwalk were treated to an, as-promised, bigger-than-ever display that took advantage of the off-shore barge brought in to fire the pyrotechnics.

Some effects shot directly from the deck of the barge, lighting the water spectacularly for those on the shore. Others soared high into the skies with booming explosions and a myriad of colors that were visible from as far away as Dagsboro, where Carrie Bennett said her family viewed the display from their home and orchards on Route 20.

Fenwick bonfire adds heat to weekend

Meanwhile, to the south in Fenwick Island, coincidental timing of the postponement of Bethany’s fireworks only added to the fun for those attending the town’s annual bonfire.

“In all aspects it was awesome,” said Fenwick Island Beach Patrol Capt. Tim Ferry of the 2007 bonfire. “We even caught a bit of the Bethany fireworks, too.”

Ferry said the fifth annual town bonfire drew at least as many people as the 2006 edition. “We had 400 or 500 people, easily,” he said. “It was a tremendous crowd and a perfect night for it.”

The event got under way around 7 p.m., with the starting of the bonfire. A D.J. and dancing helped make the event fun for the adults, while glowsticks and games highlighted the evening for the children who attended.

“The kids had a great time,” Ferry said, crediting the help of numerous volunteers who helped organize and run the event.

“Everything went off without a hitch,” he noted. “It went to every bit of 11 o’clock.”

While the bonfire is no longer directly a fundraiser for the FIBP and its lifeguard competition team, Ferry said the turnout did benefit the team’s fundraising efforts, through a 50/50 raffle and the sale of T-shirts.

The group raised nearly $1,500 toward sending the team to competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C., this summer, where they aim to retain their crown in the 4-by-100 soft-sand sprint competition.

Ferry himself is a seven-time national champion sprinter who also placed twice in the world championships and still competes. “I love it,” said Ferry. “It’s the fun aspect of lifeguarding. This is our first fundraiser of the year to help offset some of the costs for our team to travel.”

Ferry said the T-shirts are still on sale at Fenwick Island Town Hall and donations toward the team’s travel expenses are also still being accepted.

Fourth of July quieter in South Bethany

South Bethany police officers are used to spending much of their Fourth of July week chasing down those who violate Delaware law that prohibits the possession and use of fireworks by consumers. But 2007 proved to be a comparative break for the SBPD.

“It was pretty light this year,” said SBPD Chief Joe Deloach, who is known to help patrol for hit-and-run fireworks users on the SBPD’s all-terrain vehicle.

In previous years, officers had trouble tracking down the sources of numerous incidents of large-scale fireworks being shot – some of which arced or landed dangerously close to homes and people on the beach. By the time officers heard the fireworks go off or were called about them, the perpetrators were frequently gone.

The use of the ATV was designed to help get officers on-site faster, at least on July 4 itself, when much of the town traditionally turns out on the sand to view the fireworks launched in Bethany Beach. It was unclear whether the postponement of Bethany’s fireworks contributed in some way to the decline in illegal fireworks incidents in South Bethany.